Top 10 Movies of 2015 and 2016 Oscar Predictions

2015 was truly a momentous year in film. Theaters were crowded with intelligent blockbusters, daring independent cinema and thought-provoking studio fare. Yeah, guys, we had it good.

Overall, I feel confident about the following list. I’d go to bat for all of these movies in a way that I would probably only defend the first four films on my 2014 list. It was a year to root for old favorites (Leo!) and welcome newcomers (right this way, Brie and Lenny). But let’s get to the heart of matter. I can bear-ly wait (that’ll make sense when we get to…)

10. The Revenant

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There’s a reason this haunting tale of revenge is the Best Picture frontrunner. Unrivaled in its intensity this year, Alejandro Iñárritu uses customary long takes to convey a sense of claustrophobia even when his characters are in a wide-open frontier setting. Aided by Leonardo Dicaprio and Tom Hardy, who turn in their gruffest performances to date, Iñárritu manages to bring true terror to the notion of survival.

9. Mad Max: Fury Road

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A master-class in filmmaking. Even if you watch without the knowledge that most of the insane stunts in the film were done for real, it’s impossible to ignore the visceral energy permeating the entire film. Charlize Theron stuns as Furiosa and George Miller directs every scene with brazen confidence. The movie seeks to blow up a few tricked-out dystopia cars but succeeds in blowing up everyone’s expectations of what a blockbuster can be.

8. Room

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In Room, Brie Larson astonishes by acting across from an eight-year-old in a rigorously controlled environment. As Joy “Ma” Newsome, Larson is stern, gentle, frustrated, and brave. She portrays a fully realized human being in a dark and terrifying circumstance. With Lenny Abrahamson carefully guiding the narrative, Larson isn’t just breathtaking in the depth she brings to her role. She gives the best performance of the year.

7. Sicario

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A fascinating film from a fascinating director. Due to his varied tastes, the only real common thread between Denis Villeneuve’s films are the lasting impact they leave on the viewer. This year, Sicario was cruelly overlooked, but it deserves to be seen. Not only does it have the incredible talents of Roger Deakins as cinematographer, but Benicio del Toro is gripping as a mysterious and deadly force of nature.

6. Inside Out

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After a year off, Pixar came back swinging. Using seemingly one-dimensional emotions like Joy and Sadness as its principal characters, Inside Out delivers an exciting, funny and, unsurprisingly, emotionally affecting coming of age story. Bonus points for entertaining folks of all ages.

5. Ex Machina

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Equal parts disturbing and mind-blowing. It’s probably the best script of the year and writer-director Alex Garland isn’t afraid to pull any punches, giving us a twisty, twisted narrative that defies audience expectations. Although the cast is small (really only three characters), the ideas are huge. It’s also worthwhile to point out that protagonist Domhnall Gleeson appears in three other movies on this list. He should probably get his agent a pretty spectacular Christmas gift this year.

4. Kingsman: The Secret Service

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Hands-down the most fun I had at the movies this year. A thrilling espionage adventure from Matthew Vaughan. The film embraces the rich legacy of spy movies and, although it’s based on a comic book, Kingsman feels like it arrived in an Aston Martin DB5. The best performance belongs to Colin Firth who, although primarily known as Mr. Darcy, believably kicks ass while maintaining his status as a gentlemen. Also, you’ll never listen to “Freebird” the same again.

3. Brooklyn

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You won’t find any loaded pistols or nuclear bombs detonating in Brooklyn. You’ll only find a film that’s not afraid to unpack the drama of daily life. Saoirse Ronan is simultaneously sweet and sympathetic as Eilis Lacey, an Irish transplant in New York City in the ‘50s. Beautifully shot and magnificently costumed, Brooklyn is bold while being small, focusing on ongoing internal conflict without losing sight of its larger narrative.

2. Spectre

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By retaining Skyfall’s memorable visuals while doubling down on the nostalgia, Spectre is undeniably a movie for Bond fans. Not only are there numerous winks to the Bond canon throughout but it’s also the hardest the series has strived for continuity. A not-so-surprising villain rears his head and Daniel Craig’s Bond finds himself torn between the personal and professional. Before he realizes it, he’s on a quest for answers, fueled by bullish heroism and innate curiosity. The film as a whole has elegance, brutality, romance, and the largest cinematic explosion on record. In short, everything I could want from a Bond film.

1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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It’s a film that feels like it shouldn’t exist, as if the universe is too fickle to allow another good Star Wars movie to play in theaters. But Star Wars: The Force Awakens isn’t only an actual movie but it screams excellence louder than the engines of a TIE fighter. Helmed by J.J. Abrams, this installment manages to fulfill an impossible mission statement. It appeals to hardcore disciples and casual fans alike by telling a simple, grounded story with plenty of intrigue, thrills and tantalizing mythology. It was also the grandest spectacle I saw this year and, by sticking the landing, truly deserves top spot.

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And lastly, I’ve gazed into my crystal Oscar ball and extracted all the winners for tomorrow night. Here, you’ll find my final predictions designated as “Will Win” and, if we lived in a more perfect world, I’ve included what “Should Win”.

Oscar Ballot:

Best Picture:

Will Win: The Revenant

Should Win: Brooklyn

Brooklyn finds ache, heartbreak, and happiness in the everyday. The result is profound and, for me, none of the other nominees came close.

Best Director:

Will Win: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, The Revenant

Should Win: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, The Revenant

Yeah, it’s time to give him two statuettes in a row. I’m a sucker for carefully constructed long takes, and Iñárritu delivers.

Best Actor:

Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Should Win: Bryan Cranston, Trumbo

Probably the weakest category. I’ll take Bryan Cranston’s idiosyncratic performance in the so-so Trumbo over DiCaprio’s primal suffering any day of the week.

Best Actress:

Will Win: Brie Larson, Room

Should Win: Brie Larson, Room

Best performance of the year. Bar none.

Best Supporting Actor:

Will Win: Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Should Win: Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Really strong category. I’d be happy if any of the nominees went home with gold, but Stallone’s lived-in performance stands out. Mark Rylance, Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, or Mark Ruffalo could’ve definitely won in a weaker year.

Best Supporting Actress:

Will Win: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

Should Win: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

Let’s be real, though, she’s really winning for her brilliant, nuanced performance in Ex Machina.

Best Original Screenplay:

Will Win: Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy, Spotlight

Should Win: Alex Garland, Ex Machina

Alex Garland definitely had the most original, ingenious script of the year. Spotlight has an almost embarrassing lack of characterization.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Will Win: Charles Randolph and Adam McKay, The Big Short

Should Win: Nick Hornby, Brooklyn

I’ll take the wit and charm of Brooklyn any day of the week. As for The Big Short, pundits are mistaking expositional short-cuts for cleverness. Don’t be fooled.

Best Animated Feature:

Will Win: Inside Out

Should Win: Inside Out

Although Anomalisa deserves an Honorable Mention.

Best Animated Short:

Will Win: Bear Story

Should Win: Bear Story

The animation blew my mind and managed to rip out my heart at the same time. Beautiful movie.

Best Cinematography:

Will Win: Emmanuel Lubezki, The Revenant

Should Win: Emmanuel Lubezki, The Revenant

Incredible. And that’s saying something when Lubezki’s nominated against Deakins.

Best Film Editing:

Will Win: Margaret Sixel, Mad Max: Fury Road

Should Win: Margaret Sixel, Mad Max: Fury Road

The action flowed smoothly with an eye for narrative geography. You can thank Mad Max’s editing for that.

Best Foreign Language Film

Will Win: Son of Saul

Should Win: N/A (I’ll abstain since I saw none of these)

Best Documentary Feature:

Will Win: Amy

Should Win: N/A (I’ll abstain since I saw none of these)

Best Documentary Short Subject:

Will Win: Body Team 12

Should Win: N/A (I’ll abstain since I saw none of these)

Best Production Design:

Will Win: Colin Gibson and Lisa Thompson, Mad Max: Fury Road

Should Win: Colin Gibson and Lisa Thompson, Mad Max: Fury Road

THOSE DYSTOPIA CARS!!!!

Best Costume Design:

Will Win: Sandy Powell, Cinderella

Should Win: Sandy Powell, Carol

It’s not hard to make Cate Blanchett look stunning but putting her in a fur coat deserves an outright win.

Best Original Score:

Will Win: Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight

Should Win: Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight

Honorable Mention goes to Carter Burwell for an incredibly affecting score for Carol. But, come on, Morricone blows the roof off the joint.

Best Original Song:

Will Win: “Til it Happens to You”, The Hunting Ground

Should Win: “Writing’s on the Wall”, Spectre

Because, well…Bond.

Best Live Action Short:

Will Win: Stutterer

Should Win: Stutterer

Although I could see Shok winning here for its indelible final moment, the best overall short is definitely the more emotionally relatable Stutterer.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:

Will Win: Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega, and Damian Martin, Mad Max: Fury Road

Should Win: Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega, and Damian Martin, Mad Max: Fury Road

Because they gave us silver spray paint.

Best Sound Editing

Will Win: Mark Mangini and David White, Mad Max: Fury Road

Should Win: Mark Mangini and David White, Mad Max: Fury Road

EXPLOSIONS!!!

Best Sound Mixing:

Will Win: Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff, and Ben Osmo, Mad Max: Fury Road

Should Win: Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff, and Ben Osmo, Mad Max: Fury Road

EXPLOSIONS!!!

Best Visual Effects:

Will Win: Andrew Jackson, Tom Wood, Dan Oliver, and Andy Williams, Mad Max: Fury Road

Should Win: Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Ardington, and Sara Bennett, Ex Machina

No other movie used CGI to advance the narrative quite like Ex Machina. Alicia Vikander’s Ava is iconic solely because of visually daring filmmaking.

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